What to Bring When Buying a Car - The Essential Checklist

What to Bring When Buying a Car: The Essential Checklist

Buying a car is an exciting milestone, but the process can also feel exhausting, especially if it’s your first time. Being prepared with the right documents will make your dealership visit a lot smoother! So what should you bring to buy a car?

Essential Documents to Bring When Buying a Car

Valid driver’s licenseProves your identity and driving eligibility
Proof of insuranceRequired to drive off the lot in most states
Payment methodCash, check, or financing pre-approval letter
Pay stubsVerify income if financing
Tax returnsFurther income verification for financing
Bank statementsDemonstrate savings for down payment if financing
Student/military IDQualify for discounts
TitleProves ownership for trade-in
RegistrationTrade-in documentation
Maintenance recordsSupports trade-in value
Loan payoff amountSettles remaining balance on trade-in

Driver’s License

This is a no-brainer, but don’t leave home without your valid driver’s license. The dealer will need to verify your identity and driving eligibility before they can let you take a test drive or drive off the lot. Make sure it’s not expired!

Double check that the address on your license matches your current residence. If not, bring proof of your new address like a current utility bill.

Proof of Insurance

You’ll need current proof of insurance to finalize the sale, since insurance is required to drive in most states. Call your provider ahead of time to add the new vehicle to your policy. If you’re a new driver without prior insurance, you can purchase a policy at the dealership.

Payment for the Car

Determine your payment method beforehand – whether cash, check, or financing. If financing, get pre-approved through your bank so you know what terms you qualify for. Bring the pre-approval letter to use as leverage when negotiating your interest rate.

Have your down payment ready as a check or cash. Most lenders require 10-20% down to get the best rates.

Income Verification

If financing, the lender may ask for recent pay stubs, tax returns, or bank statements to confirm your income.

ID for Discounts

Bring any documentation needed to qualify for discounts – like a student, military, or affinity program ID. Ask ahead of time what discounts the dealer offers.

Trade-In Paperwork

To trade in your current car, bring the title, registration, maintenance records, and loan payoff amount if still financed. This smooths the trade-in process.

Arriving prepared with all the right documents sets you up for a stress-free, efficient car buying experience. Test drive with confidence knowing you have everything you need to drive off the lot in your new set of wheels that same day!

Financing Documents

  • Pre-approval letter
  • Pay stubs
  • Tax returns
  • Bank statements

Discounts and Trade-In

  • Student ID
  • Military ID
  • Current registration
  • Title
  • Maintenance records
  • Loan payoff amount


Being organized with all your paperwork helps the car buying process go faster. Review the dealer’s website or call ahead to ask what documents they require. With the right preparation, you’ll be handing over the keys to your new ride in no time!

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Steve is a former licensed car dealer located in the State of Florida.  He has many years of experience buying, selling, and working on cars mechanically and started Autohitch to help buyers and Sellers navigate the complex lands of Car Buying.